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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Election: Minority Language Requirements

Last Updated on January 10, 2014

Federal Law Requires Minority Language Assistance in Clark County's Elections

Clark County became subject to the minority language voting provisions of Section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a) on July 26, 2002. Based upon 2000 Census data, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau directed Clark County to conduct all future elections in English and Spanish.

On October 13, 2011, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau informed Clark County that, based upon 2010 census data, future elections must also be conducted in Filipino* (Tagalog), as well as English and Spanish.  See the Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 198, October 13, 2011.

The U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") enforces these minority language requirements.

*The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines designates "Filipino" as the national language in Article XIV, Section 6. For more information about the differences between the terms Filipino, Tagalog, and Pilipino see the article "Filipino? Tagalog? Pilipino?". The article indicates "the national language was labeled Filipino to acknowledge and embrace the existence of and preference for many English and Spanish derived words. 'Western' letters such as f, j, c, x and z — sounds of which were not indigenous to the islands before the arrival of the Spaniards and the Americans — were included in the official Filipino alphabet." 

Federal Voting Rights Act

Requirements

A state or political subdivision (usually a county, but a township or municipality in some states) is subject to election-related minority language assistance requirements when Census data shows one or more of the following in relation to single language minority groups (defined by 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(e) as persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives, or of Spanish heritage):

More than five percent (5%) of the citizens of voting age of a single language minority group:
(42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(b)(2)(A)((i)(I) and Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 198, October 13, 2011)   

  • Are limited-English proficient, i.e., they do not speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process; and

  • Have an illiteracy rate that is higher than the national illiteracy rate, i.e., the rate of those citizens who have not completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate of voting age citizens who have not completed the fifth grade.

More than 10,000 of the citizens of voting age of a single language minority group:
(42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(b)(2)(A)((i)(II) and Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 198, October 13, 2011
)  

  • Are limited-English proficient, i.e., they do not speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process; and

  • Have an illiteracy rate that is higher than the national illiteracy rate, i.e., the rate of those citizens who have not completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate of voting age citizens who have not completed the fifth grade.

More than five percent (5%) of the American Indian or Alaska Native voting age citizens residing within an American Indian Reservation (and off-reservation trust lands) of a single language minority group:
(42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(b)(2)(A)((i)(III) and Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 198, October 13, 2011)

  • Are limited-English proficient, i.e., they do not speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process; and

  • Have an illiteracy rate that is higher than the national illiteracy rate, i.e., the rate of those citizens who have not completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate of voting age citizens who have not completed the fifth grade.

According to the DOJ, "covered jurisdictions are determined by the Census Bureau after each Census based upon a formula set out in the Voting Rights Act. The most recent determinations were made on October 13, 2011." A listing of all U.S. locations with minority language assistance requirements is available online.

All of the provisions of 28 C.F.R. PART 55 (regulations for the implementation of language minority group provisions of the Voting Rights Act) are also available online.


Implementation

The Clark County Registrar of Voters will provide registration and voting materials in English, Filipino (Tagalog), and Spanish. These materials include registration notices, voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, and other materials and information relating to the electoral process, including ballots. This is mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(c).
  

Enforcement
According to the DOJ: "Under Section 2 of the Act, the Department may sue in federal court to challenge those practices that it has determined are racially discriminatory. Several lawsuits of this nature are filed every year. The Attorney General also has special administrative powers, under a part of the Act known as Section 5, to prevent the adoption of discriminatory voting practices in certain parts of the country. The Department also works with states and localities to help them understand the Voting Rights Act and avoid discrimination in voting, and may send federal observers to monitor elections to ensure their fairness to minorities when such monitoring is deemed necessary."

More information on the DOJ's administrative procedures is available online. 

History and Purpose of the Law

1975 Congressional Passage of Language Minority Provisions of the Federal Voting Rights Act

In 1975, Congress passed the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Section 203 [also known as 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a] and Section 4(f)(4) [also known as 42 USC § 1973b(f)(4)]) for a period of ten years. The provisions were extended in 1982 for 10 years, in 1992 for 15 years and in 2006 for 25 years.
  

Congress found that English-only elections excluded language minority citizens from participating in the electoral process, and that this was often aggravated by physical, economic and political intimidation (42 USC § 1973b(f)(1)).  Congress declared that, in order to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, it was necessary to prohibit English-only elections (42 USC § 1973b(f)(1)).  Voting standards, practices or procedures that denied or abridged the voting rights of any language minority citizen were prohibited (42 USC § 1973b(f)(2)).
  

2006 Congressional Reauthorization

In 2006, Congress reauthorized the language minority provisions of the Act for an additional 25 years, until 2032 (see Sec. 7. Extension of Bilingual Election Requirements [also known as 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(b)(1)), through The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Reauthorization in both the House and Senate.  All of Nevada's Congressional House Representatives and U.S. Senators voted for passage. The Reauthorization was signed into law on July 27, 2006 by President Bush. President Bush's remarks upon signing the Act are available online.

Congress included the following findings as part of the Reauthorization:

"Racial and language minorities remain politically vulnerable, warranting the continued protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.... (Sec. 2(b)(3))

"The record compiled by Congress demonstrates that, without the continuation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protections, racial and language minority citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, or will have their votes diluted, undermining the significant gains made by minorities in the last 40 years." (Sec. 2(b)(9))

As a result, covered jurisdictions, such as Clark County, Nevada, continue to provide written materials and other assistance in applicable minority languages.
  

More About Language Minority Voting Rights

Detailed information is available from the DOJ online.  

Additional Information

Additional information is available from the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Voting Section:                    

Information in Spanish

Information in Filipino (Tagalog)

Internet

E-Mail:

Voting.Section@usdoj.gov

Phone:

(800) 253-3931 (Toll-Free) or (202) 307-2767 (Washington, D.C.)

Fax:

(202) 307-3961 or (202) 307-2569 (Washington, D.C.)

Address:  

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC   20530